According to John Howard, Australian troops are in Iraq to help build a free, democratic society, based on the rule of law.
Having overthrown the bloodstained tyrant Saddam Hussein, we are now helping the Americans and the British establish a new society. Unfortunately, most Arabs and Muslims don't quite see it that way. They think we've got different motives.
In their eyes, our flowery rhetoric about democracy and freedom means little. They judge us by our actions, not our words, and we keep giving them plenty of reasons for being cynical.
In the 1980s the US and Britain supplied Saddam with components for chemical and biological weapons. In the 1990s they imposed crippling sanctions on Iraq for developing such weapons. In 2003 they invaded Iraq because Saddam had these weapons, which then turned out to be nonexistent.
Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqis have died as a result of these interventions.
The ugly reality of Western motives in the Middle East was exposed shortly before Christmas by a decision of the British Government. A long-running Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribes paid by British firm BAE Systems to leading members of the Saudi Arabian regime in return for big weapons contracts was abruptly terminated.
To minimise publicity, the British Government announced this decision on the same day the report of the inquiry into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was released. It claimed the interests of national security must prevail over the rule of law. It denied that Britain's economic interests, as one of the world's biggest arms exporters, played a part in the decision.
So, people who may be guilty of serious criminal offences get off scot free. And the obscenely wealthy and corrupt ruling elite of a medieval monarchy is spared the embarrassment of public exposure.
So much for the rule of law. So much for spreading democracy and freedom in the Middle East.
I've heard US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair speak in the Australian Parliament about bringing democracy and freedom to the Middle East. They sounded so good, I was tempted to believe them. However misguided their policies might be in practice, at least they appeared to be fair dinkum about it all.
Remember the supposed flowering of democracy in the Middle East a year or two ago?
It never really got off the ground. The Palestinians elected the wrong party, so they are being punished. Lebanon is a shambles. And Egypt is still an unsavoury dictatorship hiding behind a sham democracy.
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